This was the first question out of the blocks at last night’s Lake Highland’s Women’s League Book Club (LHWL) meeting, where I was invited to speak and discuss my novel, Little 15.
This feisty group of well-read women had no qualms whatsoever of voicing their opinions, albeit politely and with grace. As soon as the book club leader posed this question, the comments started to fly, with the overwhelming majority saying NO.
Absolutely not, they said. It’s never OK for a teacher to have a romantic relationship with a high school student. Why? Drawing from their own teenage emotional experiences, as well as those of their children, the LHWL Book Club concluded simply that teenagers do not have the emotional maturity or psychological reasoning to distinguish the difference between infatuation and genuine love.
The Anatomy of the Teen Brain
These ladies are definitely on to something. Over the years, I’ve run across several studies supporting this notion, including the Teenage Brain by The National Geographic. This extensive report highlighted brain-imaging technology that’s enabled researchers to see the teen brain in enough detail to track both its physical development and its patterns of activity. As it turns out, our brains take longer to develop than we once thought. In fact, it’s not until we reach our 20s do our brains fully mature, giving us optimal reasoning ability and decision-making power. This might help to explain why teens behave with such “vexing inconsistency: beguiling at breakfast, disgusting at dinner; masterful on Monday, sleepwalking on Saturday.”
The slow and uneven developmental arc revealed by these imaging studies offers an alluringly pithy explanation for why teens may do stupid things like drive at 113 miles an hour, aggrieve their ancientry, and get people (or get gotten) with child: They act that way because their brains aren’t done! -Teenage Brain, National Geographic, October 2011
So knowing this then, where should the responsibility lie in situations when the relationship between a teacher and student goes to far?
According to the women of the LHWL Book Club, whose members include attorneys, business owners, mothers, and philanthropists, the responsibility should rest solely in the hands of the teacher, hands down. And I couldn’t agree more. Teachers who cannot set boundaries with their students (or keep those boundaries themselves) have no place in the classroom. Period.
Stories Shared, Stories Told
It still amazes how teacher-student sex abuse affects so many people in so many different ways. Such was the case last night, when the LHWL book clubbers shared stories on how this issue has touched their lives. For example, there was the story of the college roommate who carried over a secretive relationship with her tennis coach from high school. Or the story of a husband and father, sneaking young girls into fancy hotels for photos and sex play. Or the book clubber who knew personally the attorney who represented the family of an Episcopal School of Dallas student who took stand and sued the school for mishandling the girl’s affair with a teacher.
All of this talk led to an increased awareness of what can happen if parents and schools aren’t vigilant about keeping watch over the adults to whom we entrust our kids. And perhaps that’s the most rewarding part of this journey for me: It’s one thing for a work of fiction to move a reader, but it’s quite another for a work fiction to raise awareness.
So what do you think? Is it ever OK for a teacher to date a student? And when these relationships do happen, who do you believe is to blame? Do the students bear any responsibility?